New Soccer Planet owners familiar with sport's role in community

New Soccer Planet owners familiar with sport's role in community

URBANA — When Soccer Planet opened in 2011, it filled a need for local soccer players.

Champaign-Urbana was one of the last central Illinois towns of its size to add an indoor soccer facility.

"Springfield had a place, so did Peoria, Bloomington," said co-owner Mike Burrus. "There were facilities in other demographically similar areas prior to Soccer Planet, so I think the need was there for this facility."

Burrus, a teacher at Barkstall Elementary in Champaign; Mark Sikora, a teacher at Centennial High School and soccer coach at Parkland College; and Achim von Bodman, a private wealth manager, bought Soccer Planet last week from founders Liz and Graham Berry.

They're avid soccer fans who grew up in C-U when soccer was first starting to catch on here.

"We were in the dark days in the '80s," Sikora said.

They were on some of the area's first club teams in the early 1980s and then the first high school teams.

Centennial and Central high schools added soccer in 1985, and Urbana followed suit a year later.

"When we were starting out in soccer in Champaign, we were competing with cities like St. Louis and Chicago and Indianapolis and Kansas City, where teams played together in the wintertime," von Bodman said. "We just didn't have a facility like that. We had to drive over to Springfield, which had one indoor facility."

He said the 1994 World Cup held in nine cities across the United States helped accelerate interest in soccer locally.

"That's about the time soccer really started to grow in Champaign, and it grew pretty quickly," von Bodman said.

In 1997, the University of Illinois's women's soccer team became a Division I team.

"The University of Illinois ... said they're not going to sink money into this if the local community isn't going to support it first," Sikora said. "So the club, again, stepped up the same way they stepped up to build high school soccer."

Over the years, von Bodman said, he would discuss with the Berrys the need for an indoor facility.

"Then Graham actually built a facility," von Bodman said.

"We decided to build Soccer Planet in 2010 because we thought it was something that was needed in our community. We opened our doors in October 2011, and we received an incredibly positive response from the community," Liz Berry said.

"We have had a wonderful seven years operating Soccer Planet, but realized that it was time for us to move on and let someone else take it forward. Our family is starting to spread out around the country, and Graham has other business interests."

Manager David Galvin estimated some 2,000 people show up to the facility in the winter during the busy weekends for tournaments.

And Soccer Planet does more than just soccer, with local groups renting out the facility at 2310 N. Willow Road in Urbana for everything from lacrosse and baseball to birthday parties and dog training.

"It's kind of bursting at the seams," Galvin said.

In 2016, the Berrys announced plans to expand Soccer Planet by adding another building that would nearly double in size the facility.

While they laid down dirt for the second building directly east of the existing building, the expansion has not happened yet.

The new owners hope to pick up that project.

"It will be more of an open building that we want to focus on things like baseball, T-ball or softball. If you need soccer, you can do soccer, but the idea is it's a community building for community clubs," von Bodman said. "It's a superbly built business that can stand on its own, but we know there's a need in the community for more space."

For now, the new owners want to get settled into their new business.

"Graham and Liz did an amazing job to get Soccer Planet created and running, and running really well," von Bodman said. "Mark, Mike and I are really excited about it, and there is a big vision, a big plan for the whole facility, but we have to take our time. Job No. 1 is to maintain everything Graham and Liz have created."

They closed on the sale Monday, three days before the first match of this year's World Cup.

"The TVs will be running the games, that's for sure," von Bodman said.

"So just getting the keys within a week, we're definitely going to push for that. What we want to try to do is maybe something around the final," Sikora said.

"And we'll have plenty of time to plan for the North America World Cup" in 2026, Burrus joked.